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Every two minutes, a worker somewhere in the UK is made ill through stress at work

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The mental symptoms of stress range from sleeplessness and listlessness through to clinical depression and suicide. The physical effects range from appetite loss and nausea through to heart damage and stroke.

Last week was European Health and Safety Week and to coincide the TUC has published new advice on managing stress at work. The guidance highlights three key points:

Stress is not a weakness or your fault: it can affect anyone at anytime.

Don’t suffer in silence: but instead talk to someone like your union rep, a friend, your GP or a support service.

Stress-related illnesses caused by work are preventable. Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or remove anything at work that could make you ill and that includes workplace stress.

Health and safety representatives tell me that stress was their number one health and safety concern in the workplace. Even the anticipation of job loss and precarious employment has a marked detrimental impact on people’s physical and mental health.

Mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression caused or made worse by work are by far the biggest cause of sickness absence, costing an estimated £13 BILLION in sickness pay and lost productivity, not to mention a further £12 BILLION in public service spending and carers’ time. (figs come direct from the UK Faculty of Public Health.)

The Due North Inquiry commissioned by Public Health England opens with the powerful statement,

“Life is not grim up north, but, on average, people here get less time to enjoy it. 

Because of poorer health, many people in the North have shorter lifetimes and longer periods of ill-health than in other parts of the country. 

That health inequalities exist and persist across the north of England is not news, but that does not mean they are inevitable.”

Here in the North East we are taking proactive steps to mitigate these inequalities and make our region healthier. One of these steps is the Better Health at Work Award, an innovative and unique partnership between all 12 local authorities, the Northern TUC, the NHS, other expert providers and most importantly regional employers and employees.

This year alone we have more than 270 north east employers actively participating in the Award, covering more than 185,000 employees.  These employers range from micro businesses of 5 people up to large organisations with more than 14,000 staff - and cover all employment sectors.  There is also a growing network of Health Advocates (trained staff volunteers who help drive the health agenda forward in their respective workplaces) which now stands in excess of 1500.

Ill-health – both mental and physical - are clear priority areas for employers and employees alike. But, as the Award recognises, good work is good for you and increasingly the employers we see are keen to adopt both strategic and practical measures to make this the case; from providing Stress Awareness courses and Mental Health First Aid training, integrating health and wellbeing into policies and practices, to offering lunchtime walks, alcohol awareness and healthier food options in canteens and vending machines. 

Workplace health is a win-win agenda; happier, healthier staff and a healthier bottom-line as a result.

For more info on the Better health at Work award visit: www.betterhealthatworkne.org

Beth Farhat        

Northern TUC Regional Secretary